What Is Addiction?

Addiction is a major public health problem requiring medical care and impacting large number of individuals; however, it is often not adequately dealt with in healthcare practices. Whereas risky use of drugs poses a threat to public health and safety, addiction is a medical disorder and has to be diagnosed in the context of medical systems and managed by an interdisciplinary team of professionals.

According to American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviours.

Key characteristics of addiction include:

Addiction refers to a complex and chronic brain disorder characterized by the compulsive use of a substance (such as drugs or alcohol) or engagement in a behavior (such as gambling or gaming) despite harmful consequences. It is a condition where an individual becomes physically and psychologically dependent on a substance or behavior, often resulting in a loss of control over their actions and significant negative effects on their life.

  1. Compulsion: Individuals with addiction often feel a strong and overwhelming urge to engage in the addictive behavior or use the substance, even when they may not want to.

  2. Loss of Control: Addiction typically involves a loss of control over the frequency and amount of substance use or the intensity of the addictive behavior. Individuals may want to quit or cut down but find it extremely challenging to do so.

  3. Negative Consequences: Addiction leads to negative consequences in various areas of life, including health, relationships, work, and overall well-being. These consequences may include physical health problems, damaged relationships, financial troubles, and legal issues.

  4. Tolerance: Over time, individuals with addiction often develop a tolerance, which means they need larger amounts of the substance or more intense engagement in the behavior to achieve the desired effect.

  5. Withdrawal: When a person with addiction attempts to stop or reduce their use of the substance or behavior, they may experience withdrawal symptoms, which can be both physical and psychological. These symptoms can be distressing and make it even more challenging to quit.

  6. Preoccupation: Individuals with addiction may spend a significant amount of time thinking about the substance or behavior, planning how to obtain it, or recovering from its effects.

Addiction can manifest in various forms:

  • Substance Use Disorders: This includes addiction to substances such as alcohol, drugs (e.g., opioids, cocaine, or prescription medications), and nicotine.

  • Behavioral Addictions: These are non-substance-related addictions, such as gambling addiction, gaming addiction, internet addiction, or shopping addiction.

The development of addiction is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Factors like genetics, early exposure to addictive substances or behaviors, mental health conditions, and stress can increase the risk of addiction.

It’s important to recognize that addiction is a treatable condition. Various approaches to addiction treatment exist, including behavioral therapies, counseling, medication-assisted treatment (for substance use disorders), and support groups. Seeking help from healthcare professionals, addiction specialists, or therapists is a crucial step in addressing addiction and achieving recovery. According to our Clinical Psychologist in Delhi Monish Khera, the path to recovery often involves a combination of therapies, social support, and lifestyle changes to maintain abstinence and improve overall well-being.

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It is important here to emphasize that not all substance use qualifies as an addiction. The use of substance varies across a spectrum and may range from low risk use on one had to addiction on the other. Low risk use can be understood as the consumption of a substance in amounts that are not physically and psychosocially hazardous. Hazardous use (at-risk) is characterized by its potential to cause negative health consequence however these consequences should not have occurred yet. When the substance has caused negative health consequences, it is called harmful substance use. Addiction is differentiated from the aforementioned patterns.

Dependence to a substance occurs after its sustained use. The individual experiences difficulty in controlling its intake, and when they try to abstain from the use of the substance it leads to craving often manifested as physical and psychological distress coupled with an irresistible urge to use the substance again. After a period of continued use of the substance, a given dose of the drug produces decreased effects and consequently larger doses are needed to obtain the effect originally attained from the lower does, a phenomenon known as tolerance.